With only a week to go until this year’s Cheltenham Festival, our news team have picked out their five top bets for the four-day extravaganza.
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Willie Mullins’ stable star bids to win a third Champion Hurdle on the opening day of the festival and we fully expect the outstanding 10-year-old to extend his world record of Grade 1 victories to 20 in the 2m showpiece.
Jockey Ruby Walsh believes his mount can successfully tackle one of the most competitive Champion Hurdle fields in years and having beaten rivals Our Conor and Jezki this season, the rider has said he believes those races are “definitely going to stand him in good stead” ahead of the latest renewal.
Only one of the last 20 winners of the Christmas Hurdle (My Tent or Yours) has gone on to land the Champion Hurdle in the same season and while Nigel Twiston-Davies’ The New One will also pose a threat, recent trends are also against the six-year-old.
Eighteen of the last 19 Champion Hurdle victors had run in the same calendar year, a negative for The New One, but another tick for ‘The Fly’.
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A trial winner at both Chepstow and Cheltenham, the Nick Williams-trained Le Rocher is a standout choice to deliver in this year’s Triumph Hurdle.
Cruising up the famous Cheltenham hill to score by 10 lengths ahead of both Nicky Henderson’s Kentucky Hyden and Paul Nicholls’ Vincenzo Mio further showcased the four-year-old’s burgeoning talents in January.
Both Williams and jockey Richard Johnson are confident of delivering a hat-trick of wins in England with charges from across the Channel faring well in recent years in the Triumph.
Three of the last five winners had form in France and Le Rocher could well be about to join their ranks.
As all others emptied in the King George at Kempton, Noel Fehily bided his time and pounced when it mattered most to produce Silvinaco Conti’s most momentous career victory to date.
Fast forward three months and Paul Nicholls’ big Gold Cup hope is ready to take on a host of his re-opposing rivals and land the biggest prize of them all at the second attempt.
What would have happened had Silviniaco Conti not fallen three out in last year’s renewal?
Even Nicholls is unsure of the answer to that question but we’re prepared to put our necks on the line and state that the eight-year-old star can lay that ghost to rest when he next lines-up at Prestbury Park and take Bob’s Worth’s unbeaten record at Cheltenham in the process.
Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins has a rich Champion Bumper pedigree, with 8 wins from the previous 21 renewals and in Black Hercules there’s every chance the Closutton yard can secure a hat-trick of victories.
Champagne Fever and Briar Hill have both done the business for Mullins in recent years and impressive sort Black Hercules certainly appeals as a potential successor.
Four of the last six race winners were unbeaten in bumpers, much like Mullins’ five-year-old, and following his impressive eight-and-a-half length win at Gowran Park last time out, many onlookers will be eager to see more of that juvenile promise.
Briar Hill bids to become the third of Willie Mullins’ Champion Bumper winners to go on and win a race at the Festival the following year.
And we’re confident this season’s all-conquering hero can justify his short odds and follow in the footsteps of Florida Pearl and Champagne Fever.
An impressive trio of recent wins have included Grade 1 and Grade 2 successes, albeit with limited opposition in terms of numbers, and the manner of those gutsy victories has been noteworthy.
The fact that seven of the last nine Albert Bartlett victors had contested races over 3m before is a slight cause for concern but Briar Hill has already shown over shorter distances he’s got plenty of fight and that attribute could well prove crucial again here.
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All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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